First and foremost, I’m impressed with Caine’s writing in Prince of Shadows. She strikes a nice balance betwixt the ornate language of Shakespeare and a more reader-friendly style. At times, the lines are drawn almost directly from Romeo and Juliet, and those lines blend nicely. It’s no small feat managing to stand up in some measure to Shakespeare. Though Caine’s style is quite different, I think she hits the right tone, and I very much approve of the fact that she kept the bawdy comedy inherent to Shakespearean humor, even in tragedies like this one.
Caine’s retelling too is quite clever. Cast as the lead is Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin. He’s a supporting character in Romeo and Juliet, standing in as a young tough from the Montague family. From his viewpoint, we can see the larger context of the tragedy of those star-crossed lovers. Though the paranormal elements get a bit overwhelming right at the end, the rest of the novel takes place very much in a convincing historical Verona, as defined by Shakespeare. The twists she’s put on Romeo and Juliet, even when not to my taste, put a very interesting spin on the original, and fit very well with it. Prince of Shadows isn’t so much a retelling as a frame in which we can learn that things were not as they appeared.
The characters of lovestruck Romeo and Juliet both do and do not come off looking better in Prince of Shadows than they did in the play. What Caine really emphasizes is their youth and how out of control of circumstances everyone felt. Many characters, however, retain the black or white natures they had in the Shakespeare. The characters seen in a greatly new light are Benvolio, Mercutio, and Rosaline.
Mercutio has always been the saddest figure in Romeo and Juliet to me, and the same is true here. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about some of Caine’s revisions, but he still breaks my heart. I adore that Caine’s Mercutio is gay, and I like too how those of good character find little fault with him for that. Whether a character believes that love is love is a good litmus test for their nature.
The other change in Prince of Shadows is an increased focus on female roles in the political situation. Though a male is still the lead, he’s surrounded by strong women, both evil and good. His grandmother rules the Montague clan with an iron fist, though scarcely able to move about. His young sister does her best to manipulate within the scope that society allows her. Benvolio’s mother ends up a more powerful figure as well. Rosaline, of course, serves as the best representation, almost an Elizabeth Bennet figure, unwilling to settle for the role provided to women during her era.
Prince of Shadows is not the heavily romance-focused, action-packed adventure that Caine’s Morganville Vampires fans might be looking for. It is, however, a fascinating reconsideration of Romeo and Juliet, and will likely interest fellow Shakespeare nerds.